What We’re Left With
When my mother tells me to do something, I do it. No questions asked, just like she says.
That’s why I was with her when the doctor told her it wasn’t just the beginning stages anymore and that it was only a matter of time before her memories would slip through her fingers like sand. That’s why I didn’t say a word to her about it the whole way home as I watched her jaw clench over and over again. That’s why, when I was about to get out of the car and she grabbed my wrist tight enough to leave a bracelet and said “You need to save them. All of them,” I said okay.
I’m standing on a plastic sheet spread over the good rug and my mother is sitting in front of me on an old wooden chair. One she didn’t mind getting dirty, she said. There’s a box at my feet, one with dividers all labelled by person and year, organized so that she’ll be able to find everything easily after this, run her fingers along the tabs and pull out whoever or whenever she wants.
She took something a little while ago, something she didn’t show me, swallowed it down with half a bottle of wine, and now she’s out cold. I soak her scalp in rubbing alcohol, lean her head back and place the edge of the scalpel against her skin, just inside her hairline like she showed me. So no one will see the scar, she said. I press just hard enough to see the first pop of blood and I pull back, hands on the back of her chair, leaning forward, breathing hard.
She told me to, I say over and over to myself. She told me to do it.
I suck in air and choke it down with the rest of the wine.
It isn’t the blood that scares me. It isn’t the separating of skin or the cracking of bone. What scares me is what I’ll find once I’m inside, what she’s kept hidden in the recesses of her mind. I’m scared of the things I’ll never be able to unsee.
I move fast, trying to keep the incision as straight as I can. She always liked everything neat. I lodge the tip into her skull and crack down on it with my palm. Once. Twice. Then I’m in, just like that, and I take a deep breath before I start extracting.
Through the soft tissue and firing synapses there’s an image of her, much younger. A Vegas wedding. Secret. Her in a denim skirt wearing a toothy smile. Him donning a tourist’s t-shirt with a camera strapped around his neck. Both of them filled with too much gin. I pull it out gently and place it in the box by my feet.
I see my brother, number 7, getting his first goal, her in the stands beneath a heater and knit blanket, 6:30am and so proud. Her voice hoarse from cheering.
A trip to the Dominican, ankle-deep in the ocean and the sun making her red hair shine.
Her laughing, her father humming, arms draped around each other, posing for the camera. Neither of them knowing it was the last time they’d dance together.
I dig each memory out one by one and file them all away. The box fills up, all sections but one quickly overfilling and spilling into the next.
Desperation builds up inside me as I search the passageways of her brain for just one. Less gentle, more selfish. I start to wonder if any exist at all, if maybe she’s already forgotten me completely, and then I find mine, an entire corner for only me, and it’s everything I’m afraid of.